SAP ecosystem: going direct for SMBs

SAP prides itself on its massive ecosysetm of partners. As well it should.

SAP prides itself on its massive ecosysetm of partners. As well it should. Thousands of consulting firms from names we'd all recognize like Accenture, PWC, KPMG and on to Cap Gemini, CSC and others all the way down to firms you've never heard of but which make a living out of helping smaller companies in specific markets. Pearl Consulting in Norway comes to mind, a Business All-in-One implementer that has some great case histories.

SAP likes to position itself as a benign father figure, orchestrating the ecosystem, providing it with routes to market knowing there is a symbiotic relationship between itself and partners. It's not enough. As the economy has turned sour and opportunities evaporate, it does what every firm does in these circumstances and protects its own, flavored by its own DNA. That manifests in all sorts of ways.

SAP encourages innovation among its partners but is less keen to support them in development and marketing. The moment a company comes up with a good idea, the 'not invented here' syndrome often kicks in or the idea is ignored. I believe that's one of the reasons we have - a solution looking for a problem that I struggle to understand. I can't see why SAP is devoting so much air time to pimping it when there are much bigger fish to fry. I'm not alone but for different reasons. Fellow SAP Mentor Jim Spath has this to say in a public comment on the topic:

For reasons I won't explain now, I have no time nor inclination to be a beta tester for yet another software tool. I've ignored invites to this, as I've ignored four-square and other mystery projects. You know I'm not anti-progress, I just need to see a reason to spend my time analyzing someone else's software bugs and design faults.

Question 1 - "Why should I try this?" I haven't seen a compelling reason yet. "Collaborative decision making"? Huh? In most places I've been, the bosses make the decisions. 2. What is it - "Collaborative content management"? We already have one (or more) of those. "Product lifecycle management"? Check, have it. "Email list management" Yes, that too.

Jim and I had something of a philosophical discussion about this. Maybe it's our age, I'll be celebrating 40 years in and around IT in June, but sometimes we look at all the shiny new toys and wonder what all the fuss is about when we already have tools that do pretty much the same job. Hang around long enough in this industry and you'll see the same things being refactored. It makes us cautious but not unreceptive to new things. That's as it should be in enterprise land.

To its credit, SAP reached out and pointed me to some new 'stuff' on Gravity and 12Sprints as a way to collaboratively develop time limited tuck in applications. The example is a cell phone switching app. It requires a set of processes that may only live for a short while and may never become part of the SAP environment. The example beats the heck out of using spreadsheets. I can identify with that requirement but SAP needs to show many more examples in order to make the case for monetization.

I understand SAP wants to appear cool with skin in the 'social everywhere' game. Unfortunately it runs the risk of appearing to be as asinine as some of those who think the revolution is coming via 'social everything' and who play directly into the hands of those who see no reason to change. Putting on a clown's suit is great for entertaining but in the enterprise world that's all it is.

On the other hand I sometimes wonder if SAP understands the value its partners bring to the table. In recent weeks a small but steady stream of partners have come knocking asking if I'd look at their solution. I mostly ignore these requests, not out of disinterest but because it should not be my job to hold up a light for any vendor, however well meaning.

And then something Vinnie Mirchandani said to me recently rang a bell: "If we don't do it then who will?" It's the sort of sharp reminder I need to get me off my self appointed 'judge and jury' pedestal. Coincidentally, I have started to get the same sort of requests from Oracle partners. SAP is not alone here. It's also a reminder why, in the background, I've been pestering SAP to more actively support those that are enhancing its offerings to the SMB market or which are solving problems that while important, may not fit with SAP's business model. By its own admission, SAP 'forgot' its SMB customer base. Supporting partners doing good things is one way to put that behind it.

One example I have written about in the past is Panaya. It takes a lot of the pain away from upgrade break/fix, it as a SaaS solution and will run a free health check so you can taste what you're getting before committing to purchase. That's more aimed at SAP Business Suite customers but serves as a good proxy for what I am saying. Innovation not just at the level of invention but in consumption.

At the SMB end, Coresuite contacted me. The video at top of page is from their site. They're offering three broad solutions for BusinessOne customers: easy to deploy web based commerce, iPhone access to B1 data and social networking integration to the B1 solution. SAP showed parts of this at last Fall's Influencer Summit but it is only now that I am seeing the full manifestation. If that was all there was to the story then I'd likely say 'Meh. Is it that exciting?'

In the promo video, Coresuite makes the point the apps can be downloaded from its store and don't require additional consulting. Where do you hear that and SAP in the same sentence?

It's a good example of how a small partner can take the agile ethos of the startup and apply it to an otherwise maturing solution. It breathes new life into the main product while adding value. Yes, it's a co-innovation with SAP and to be much admired. Co-incidentally, I was speaking with a Gartner analyst about Coresuite and we agreed there is much to be admired in their approach and delivery.

I wish though that SAP would corral these types of company and put them front and center. It would silence those who think SAP has become moribund or that its solutions are losing their relevance. At the customer end, it would demonstrate that while all the buzz may be around the cloud, the business reality is one of extension and transition.

This last point is critical. Unlike those that trumpet the cloud as being goodness in itself, such solutions recognize that companies will not simply rip and replace for the cloud but will augment and mine value from what they have already. Its a logical coexistence that helps customers see enhanced value rather than scaring them into something that might prove painful. It is a practical adaptation that combines the best of on-premise with the advantages of extending via cloud technologies. It is a strategy I see being successfully followed elsewhere. It makes good business sense. It certainly makes far more business sense than the question from Marc Benioff: "Why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook?"